The new David Stratton

24 February, 2008

SBS Move Show

I’ve been submitting most of my movie reviews to the SBS Movie Show site. It’s good practice, and every now and then I win one of their weekly prizes.

I was pretty chuffed to be their ‘Featured Reviewer’ earlier in the week, and at the moment my review of 3:10 to Yuma is the Editor’s Pick on the home page.

Over the past few months I’ve received a few accolades including Review of the Week, Most Informative and Most Humourous.

But the one I’m most proud of is Best Use of a Superlative.

That has got to be the greatest compliment I’ve ever received. And the most unexpected. And probably the most unwarranted.

I just wish I knew which of my superlatives was the most impressive.


Movie Review – Blindsight

18 February, 2008

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The annals of human history are full of incredible examples of bravery: in the theatre of war; during natural and man-made catastrophes; in the face of personal adversity; even from time to time on our sporting fields.

Some acts of bravery are never known to anyone apart from the participants, while others are celebrated and often retold. Sometimes there are great stories just waiting to be told, and when we hear them we are moved, inspired, and humbled by our trivial day-to-day worries.

Blindsight is a magnificent true story of the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. It follows the lives of six blind Tibetan teenagers who attempt to climb the Himilayan peak of Lhakpa-Ri, a 23,000 feet sister of Mount Everest.

The back stories of the participants are incredible – there is Sabriye Tenberken, a blind German social worker who has travelled solo to Tibet to set up a school for the blind; there is Erik Weihenmayer, a blind American adventurer who has climbed Mt Everest; there are a collection of sighted mountaineeting escorts who volunteer to assist the blind climbers with their ascent; and then there are the six Tibetan youths who have effectively been treated as social outcasts for their entire lives.

While the story is inspiring and emotional (there was hardly a dry eye in the house at my screening), director Lucy Walker (Devil’s Playground 2002) has made some interesting choices in the telling of the tale. Much is made of the building conflicts between the two factions of Westerners accompanying the Tibetans on the climb (caring social workers vs. gung ho adventurers), but there is little to show us what the Tibetans themselves are thinking while they are on the mountain. This has the effect of focussing audience attention on the Westerners, rather than the real heroes of the story. There is also surprsingly little in the way of reflective interviews with the Tibetans at the end of the film.

The scenery and cinematography is magnificent, and excellent use is made of graphical devices to demonstrate the route being taken by the climbing party as they ascend the mountain.

The story itself rates 5 stars; unfortunately the telling of it falls a little short of the mark. 3 1/2 stars.


Movie Review – Juno

1 February, 2008

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Juno is a brilliantly made and highly entertaining film, and thoroughly deserves its 4 Oscar nominations.

Ellen Page is terrific as Juno McDuff, a fiesty 16 year-old who falls pregnant to the dorky Bleeker (Michael Cera). She decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption rather than take the seemingly easier abortion route taken by some of her high school peers.

Juno’s parents (played by JK Simmons and Allison Janney) are wonderfully idiosyncratic, and resignedly support Juno through her decision and subsequent search for a pair of appropriate adoptive parents for her child.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman play the adoptive parents-to-be, Vanessa and Mark, with warmth and sensitivity; Garner in particular is a revalation and her scene with Juno in a shopping mall is pure cinema magic. Go on, I dare you not to cry.

The script is quirky; at times humourous and at times touchingly sad.

Juno is a feel-good movie even though the underlying themes of teenage pregnancy and adult infertility are anything but the usual feel-good material. Some people will no doubt be critical of the shallow treatment given to the pro’s and con’s of Juno’s decision and the absence of any subsequent soul-searching on her behalf. Similarly, the lack of parental input into Juno’s life-defining decision is a little hard to swallow.

But there are plenty of movies out there exploring those type of themes in depth. Juno is what it is, and it does what it does brilliantly. And if the crowds of teenagers rustling their lolly wrappers in my ear throughout the movie are any indication, its target market thinks so too.

Bravo.


Open letter to Village Cinemas

29 January, 2008

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Dear Village Idiots

I just wanted to congratulate you on your amazing forethought in selecting products with the noisiest possible wrappers for sale in your exhorbitantly priced snack bars.

The last two movies I’ve seen have been ruined by patrons ratting, rustling, crinkling and shuffling their packaging in my ear for the entire running time.

Presumably you are selling individually wrapped tic tacs inside cellophane covered mazes, then offering free boxing gloves to patrons, just to make the simple task of obtaining the next lolly that little bit more challenging.

How about a little consideration to those people who actually go to your cinemas to (heaven forbid) watch the movie?

Bring back ushers with torches, I say.


Movie Review: The Number 23

30 December, 2007

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Jim Carrey stars in this fairly ordinary psychological thriller, based on a real life conspiracy-theory school of thought that attributes a mystical power to the number 23.

Walter Sparrow (Carrey) is a run-of-the-mill dog catcher who slowly comes to believe that a novel he is reading was written about him. The main character in the novel, Fingerling, is obsessed with the number 23, and this obsession is picked up by Sparrow, who begins to see evidence of the number everywhere.

Not that it’s hard to do when you try: a street address of 599 translates to 5 + 9 + 9 = 23; the colour pink is made up of red and white, whose numerical descriptors add up to 92, which divided by 4 = 23; ohmygod, my own initials are BC, that’s 2 + 3 = 23 and I was born on the second of December, that’s 2 + 1 + 2 = 2 + 3 = 23. And when we added the five digits on the cat’s registration collar, what do you think they added to? That’s right, 23.

Director Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth, 8MM, Batman Forever) has a lot of fun adding in plenty of superfluous 23 sightings into the action; in fact I found ‘spotting the 23s’ the most engaging part of the film. Guess how many chapters on the DVD?

The action switches between the real life world of Walter Sparrow and his caring wife Agatha (Virginia Madsen), and the imaginary world of Sparrow’s novel-based alter ego, Fingerling. The film-makers incorporate some dark Sin City-style imagery into this fantasy world, and in a nice touch which exacerbates the sense of Sparrow’s obsession, Carrey and Madsen also play the highly stylised lead roles in Fingerling-world.

The premise of an enigmatic, magical number had some promise, but generally the plot was far-fetched and unconvincing. The actors do their part competently, the production team does theirs, but at the end of the day, if it looks like a dog and smells like a dog, in all probability it is a dog.

Famous Number 23s: Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Shane Warne, Mark Bolton…spooky.

2.3 stars


Movie Review – Eastern Promises

11 December, 2007

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Here’s my review of Eastern Promises. Sorry it’s a bit disjointed: I should know better than to try and write a review while the cricket is on TV.

It’s hard to concentrate when Australia has NZ 8-69!

Movie Review – Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises is an enjoyable and well-made film – basically a Russian mafia version of the classic Godfather/Goodfellas/Casino storylines.

Director David Cronenberg and leading man Viggo Mortensen team up again after their successful combination in ‘A History of Violence’. This time Mortensen plays a mysterious and emotionless Russian hitman with a seriously sinister demeanour. His performance is characteristically professional, conveying strength and more than an undercurrent of violence.

The support cast is a bit of a mixed bag.

Armin Mueller-Stahl is brilliant as the cold and calculating ‘Godfather’ Semyon, his outwardly gentle and caring demeanour concealing an underlying sinister nature.

Australian Naomi Watts is oddly cast as an English nurse drawn unwittingly into the dangerous and violent world of the London chapter of the Russian mafia. She carries it off OK, but am I the only one who thought she perhaps would have had a slight Russian accent, given she was supposed to be the daughter of a Russian immigrant herself?

Vincent Cassel plays Kirril, Semyon’s erratic son, a character very much in the Sonny Corleone mould. Cassel’s performance is completely over-the-top and difficult to take seriously, and at times the plot suffers as a result.

As with AHOV, there are some fairly graphic and violent scenes, enough to generate a few communal groans of horror in the audience at the session I attended. Certainly a lot more confronting than your run of the mill gangster flick, but not approaching the likes of say Hostel or Saw.

The action is fast paced and the plot is reasonably solid, with a few interesting twists along the way. The whole film is set in the familiar streets of inner London, so not too much scope for interesting location shots.

Worth seeing for Mortensen’s performance alone, and for the steam-room scene if you don’t mind seeing a little claret spilled on the floor.


Riposte

29 November, 2007

Yesterday I wrote about the sledging I copped about my asinine movie review.

My friend Linnet suggested I should continue with the riposte I started at the end of that post. Here goes:

Dear Anonymous (if that is your real name)

Thank you for your helpful feedback on my review of Into the Wild. Asininity is one of the qualities I aim for with my reviews, so it’s encouraging to know I’m hitting the mark with my valued readers.

Unlike master wordsmiths such as David Stratton and Margaret Pomerantz, I have a day job, and write my movie reviews as a hobby. I pay for the tickets out of my own pocket and try to write up new movies shortly after their release in case they are of use to others thinking of seeing that movie.

Usually I post my reviews on the SBS Movie Show website – generally around 100 people read them over a period of time, so presumably this sort of amateur review is useful to some people. I know I find the reviews of other people useful myself.

Some of my other friends, such as Will and Emma, also write these reviews. I don’t think their reviews are asinine at all, but I’m sure with some expert guidance from yourself, they will be able to write with the required combination of stupidity and obstinacy.

Just so as I can continue to meet your demanding movie-reviewing requirements, it would be of great help if you could send a link to some of your own reviews, just so I can get some pointers and pass these on to my friends.

Thanks again

BC

PS – Go f*ck yourself